Simon blazing legit trail

GOOD MORNING: The most successful of Neil Simon’s works? He thinks it’s “Lost in Yonkers”–with the exception, of course of “The Odd Couple,” which has been rolling in the royaltie$ for 30 years, he reminds. Last Friday, the Rastar movie version of “Yonkers,” directed by Martha Coolidge for Columbia, wound. “It was the most pleasurable experience,” says Simon. “Yonkers” continues on B’way; there are six traveling companies including Europe and Japan. How does he explain this play’s phenomenal success–not that his other shows haven’t also been enormous hit$ ? “It’s some common denominator, the relationship between mothers and daughters. I watch it night after night and I cannot believe how audiences get pulled into it. It has even gotten my best reviews in England.” He is closing “Jake’s Women” on B’way on the 25th because “It’s impossible to replace Alan Alda — he is too valuable.” Alda, who is also working in Woody Allen’s movie, “Manhattan Murder Mystery,” will reprise “Women” at the Doolittle , April 10-June 27. On March 4, Simon starts rehearsals of his musicalized “Goodbye Girl” at N.Y.’s Marriott Marquis with Bernadette Peters and Martin Short starring, music by Marvin Hamlisch and lyrics by David Zippel. Latter was the one who suggested that Simon tune his play. “I think it’s Marvin’s best score since ‘Chorus Line,’ ” Simon says. Meanwhile Neil’s also busy writing his next play, “The 23rd Floor,” about the comedy writers of a 1953-54 TVariety show (any resemblance to the Sid Caesar group is coincidental). “It dissects their lives,” reveals Simon, “the screaming, yelling, laughter , childishness, etc.” He plans to preview at the Doolittle next October for three months. Howcum? Simon previously said he hated L.A. as a breakin’ town. “I did–but I feel safe with this one. The Ahmanson was difficult but the Doolitle is like a N.Y. house”… After the Doolittle opening of “Six Degrees of Separation,” pal Barry Diller escorted Marlo Thomas to the Columbia Bar & Grill party.

CONTINUING ON THE LEGIT TRAIL: Marvin Hamlisch, on his concertour in Calgary, jumps right into the trek for his book, “The Way I Was” (Scribner’s), winding just one day before rehearsals of “Goodbye Girl.” And, he’s booked a flight to France next morning after the opening. Hamlisch has never gotten over his stage fright–as evident in his warm and moving book of recollections. Among ’em is a story of how Allan Carr got Hamlisch reinstated on “A Chorus Line”–after he’d been fired. “He put us (Michael Bennett) back together,” admitted Marvin … Composer Jule Styne, hoping for a B’way revival of “Funny Girl,” sent a tape to Ray Stark of Taylor Dane, a young performer the same age (22) as Barbra Streisand when she created the role in 1964. Stark, who produced the original, has always rejected suggestions of reviving the show (for B’way) but — Jule has piqued his interest and Ray’s checking the tape … Frank Sinatra’s Friday RCMH concert canceled because of laryngitis is reskedded for tonight …”His body of work will take its place with pieces of art we have in this museum,” said the L.A. County Museum of Art’s Ron Haber at the tribute to Irwin Winkler and screening of his “Night and the City.” The film’s dedicated to the original movie’s blacklisted director Jules Dassin –who visited Winkler on the N.Y. location, but wasn’t able to attend the screenings because of Melina Mercouri’s illness in Athens. Winkler said he’d show it to Jules and Melina in Paris. Winkler and directors Arthur Hiller and Paul Mazursky talked making movies in N.Y.–do it fast! Robert De Niro wasn’t able to attend–he’s busy debut-directing “A Bronx Tale” in Queens. Chazz Palminteri, who co-stars in his script with De Niro, says, “He’s the greatest director–he cares about every detail. I’m just amazed seeing the play come to life.”

THE HEART OF SHOWBIZ: During the “Dave” troupe’s location hunt for a women’s and children’s homeless shelter, they noted many shelters’ needs for donations. The art department’s Michael Riva requested help from the entire cast and crew. Collection cartons are placed on “Dave” sets during the entire shoot and are filled daily with needed articles–used and NEW … Steve Forrest, who says the kids typical of South Central L.A. have been his biggest fans dating back to his “S.W.A.T.” series, has established an “L.A. Award” (cash) annually for “service and leadership” to Dorsey High kids to encourage ’em to continue on to college … The Acad of Country Music’s 10th annual celeb golf tourney brought their charitable contributions to $ 250,000. … Down in Atlanta on his “Real McCoy” location, Martin Bregman volunteers of Kim Basinger, “I’ve never worked with anyone as professional as her. A joy to work with.” She co-stars with Val Kilmer and Terence Stamp in the comedy. Alec Baldwin visits her on days off from his Boston location of “Damages” with Nicole Kidman–who’s visited on that location by Tom Cruise, researching “The Firm” at Harvard … Bob Wise receives the Heartland Film Fest’s Crystal Heart Career Achievement Award tomorrow in Indianapolis … Walter Cronkite hosts a panel on censorship at the Acad’s Intl. Docu Congress. He receives IDA’s Career Achievement award Friday.

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